Get The Coast / Coastal Resource Team, Alex Fogg.

Okaloosa exploring additional FADs closer to shore off Destin-Fort Walton Beach

Get The Coast / Coastal Resource Team, Alex Fogg.

On Tuesday, February 21, 2023, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners heard from former County Commissioner, Capt Kelly Windes, who wants to explore the deployment of additional Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) offshore Destin-Fort Walton Beach.

Nearly a decade ago, Capt. Kelly Windes began discussions to create the first FAD buoy network in the continental United States offshore Destin – Fort Walton Beach. After five years of planning, in May 2018, Okaloosa County was issued an Army Corps of Engineers Permit for the deployment of eight moored surface buoys 60-80 miles offshore.

  • In August 2020 and January 2021, Okaloosa County deployed a total of eight FAD buoys 60-80 miles offshore, using tourist development tax (TDT) funds. The network of eight FAD buoys was named the Captain Charles “Kelly” Windes Fish Aggregating Device Network.
Okaloosa Coastal Resource Team

According to Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager, the success of this project has been tremendous. 

  • “Every species of pelagic fish has been caught in great numbers, and the fishing can be equated and, in many cases, exceeds that of other domestic and international destinations that are known for their pelagic fishing opportunities,” Fogg said.

Prior to this project, pelagic fishing was inconsistent or required anglers to traverse well over 100 miles to oil and gas platforms offshore Alabama and Louisiana. Just one month after deploying the FADs, a 310-pound Blue Marlin was caught at FAD #6. 

Capt. Kelly Windes agreed with Fogg on the success of the FADs, recalling how at least a dozen  blue Marlin were caught last spring around the FADs. Additionally, Windes says the fishing this winter has been unusual…in a good way.

  • “Wahoos were caught in the middle of January, which is unusual for years past,” said Windes. “It’s been mostly wahoos and some dolphin, but it’s really proven itself in the off-season, which has been a blessing.”
Deployment of the final 4 FADs off of Destin-Fort Walton Beach, FL

With the existing FADs being 60-80 miles offshore, the Okaloosa Coastal Resource Team  will be exploring options to deploy additional FADs closer to shore.

“If you go South Southwest, we want to put the FADs in the 100-Fathom Curve (600ft) to allow other fishermen to have some of the same opportunity for the game fish without having to go 80 miles.”

  • Capt. Windes says that with deploying four more FADs (bringing the total to 12 FADs), it will cover medium and deep depth fishing opportunities.

For Windes, who used to do a lot of two-day trips to the oil rigs offshore Mobile, Alabama, the success of the existing FADs has exceeded his expectations.

  • “I really didn’t think they’d be quite this good,” laughed Windes. “I knew it would be good, and I knew it would work because I’ve fished off there all my life. But I have to say that it has worked better than I’d hoped for.” 
Gov. DeSantis (left) talks with Capt. Kelly Windes (right) at Aj’s Seafood and Oyster Bar in Destin, Florida. The FAD network is named after Capt. Windes.

Capt. Windes is a commercial snapper fisherman now and doesn’t always get the chance to run out to the FADs. But his decades on the water gives him the insight to know what is good for the fishing fleet. 

  • “I know it’s good for the fishery, the economy and the well-being of the whole fishing community, so that’s why I wanted to expand it,” Capt. Windes said.

With the support of the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners, the Coastal Resource Team will begin the lengthy permitting process and determine the exact locations for the next set of FADs.

NOTE: If you are planning to head out to the FADs, the Coastal Resource Team is asking mariners to not tie-up to the FADs. Two FADs have already broken loose and had to be recovered, as they are not meant to be mooring buoys. Read more on the importance of this here.

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